Diary of a Graduate Student Apprentice

Posted on
October 28, 2009

Hello, world. My name is Kaitlyn Gardy and I am the SCRC’s Apprentice in Computing Humanities for 2009-2010. Although I’ve only worked at the SCRC since the beginning of the fall semester, I have completed two really exciting projects that highlight exhibits and items available in Special Collections. Here’s an update on what I’ve done so far.

The Timeline As soon as I started my apprenticeship, installation began on a new exhibit about athletic facilities at William and Mary called “Healthful and Recreative: Fields for Fitness, Courts for Competition, and Arenas for Athletics, 1900-1970.” One of my first tasks was to create a digital companion piece to this exhibit in the form of a digital timeline.

To be honest, I had very little knowledge about athletic facilities at William and Mary (despite being a student here for a year). Not only that, but I knew even less about online software used to create timelines. So, the first step in undertaking this project was to find user-friendly software.

After browsing numerous webpages and trying a number of programs, two timeline creators were obvious contenders. The first, Dipity, creates a visually stimulating timeline with lots of flexibility in regards to choosing color and embedding media. However, when you have a bunch of data clustered together over a relatively small amount of time (like I did), the timeline began to look confusing and jumbled. Not good. Therefore, we chose to create our timeline using xTimeline, which produces a simple, streamlined finished product. It is easy to use (and free). It also allows you to save your data as an XML or CSV file that prevents all of your data from being gobbled up by the World Wide Web, which ended up being a major selling point for us.

So, over the course of a few weeks, I gathered data and images from the SCRC Wiki and the exhibit, and entered important dates into the events list on xTimeline. Then, after creating 93 separate events and negotiating problems with including images, the timeline was complete. Take a look at the finished product and we would enjoy receiving feedback.

William Taylor’s Correspondence While I was working on the timeline, I alternated that task with uploading transcripts of William Taylor’s Civil War Correspondence to William and Mary’s Digital Repository.

The letters date from September 1862 until October 1864 and were written by Taylor, a member of the 100th Pennsylvania Regiment, to his wife Jane from all over the country and are chock-full of information and interesting details about the Civil War. So, I decided that creating a digital map that plotted the location where each letter was written would be a good, online companion piece to this collection.

I knew about Community Walk after discovering it on my quest for timeline software, and decided it would be the perfect tool to use for this project. It is extremely easy to use and, dare I say, a lot of fun.

So, beginning with Taylor’s first letter (dated September 14, 1862), I plotted the location for where he wrote each (a total of 168 letters) as accurately as possible. Some locations were easy to determine, but others were either impossible to accurately locate or difficult to find (due to name changes of towns and things like that). Sometimes Taylor wrote letters in transit over the span of a couple of days. In those cases, I broke up the letter into a few pieces and plotted them each individually. I will admit that I made educated guesses for several locations and the map isn’t as accurate as I’d like it to be, but I think it effectively illustrates Taylor’s movement across the country during his term of service (He was discharged in November 1964, two weeks after the final letter in this collection was written.).

The mapped letters are available here.

Current Projects Despite a minor setback, I am currently working on a video tutorial highlighting different tools available on the SCRC’s website for finding and using collections. Hopefully that project will be up and running soon now that I have the software I need (I will be sure to report back when it is completed). Until then, you can always check out access tools from the SCRC that are available here.

I am also working on another timeline plotting the life of a well-known resident of Williamsburg, but more about that next time.

This is the first in a series of updates from students and volunteers working in the Special Collections Research Center in Swem Library.